The “Gut Feeling” is often synonymous with a sense
of desperation resulting from a lack of preparation. The Gut Check
is a huge proponent of studying the numbers, but there’s
a point where one can place too much emphasis on the wrong information.
This can result in the undervaluing or overlooking a player’s
potential. Therefore, The Weekly Gut Check is devoted to examining
the frame of reference behind certain number-driven guidelines
that fantasy football owners use to make decisions.
Although The Weekly Gut Check doesn’t claim to be psychic,
he does believe that he can dispel certain numbers biases and
help you make the best choices for your team. We’ll keep
a running tally of The Weekly Gut Check’s insights. This
way you can gauge his views as something to seriously consider,
or at least seriously consider running the opposite way as fast
as you can!
Correction: In this week’s
20/20 Hindsight column, I wrote that Brad Childress mishandled
the death of Sidney Rice’s grandmother. It was actually Troy
Williamson. I simply forgot.
We just hit the halfway mark for most rationally structured,
head-to-head fantasy leagues. If you’re thinking that we
passed the halfway mark at this time last week, then
somewhere along the way you’ve lost that “in it to
win it” mentality and you’re probably struggling to
stay in contention. Even if this is the case, this week’s
column can still help you. I’m looking at players who have
a good shot to make like the toughest racehorse in history –
Seabiscuit – an unstoppable athlete down the stretch when
the competition draws near.
Of course I’m using the horse metaphor because the position
we’re most concerned with down the stretch are the fantasy
workhorses, the running backs. Let’s take a look at last
year’s top 24 runners through week seven (left) and weeks
eight through fifteen (right).
Just a quick glance illustrates that only one back was a top
tier player from wire to wire: LaDainian Tomlinson. Westbrook
was on the bubble in the first half, but you can see he separated
himself from the field in the second half. Did you wonder why
I was down on Willis McGahee this year? Look at his ranking change.
It’s not that he performed much different than he did from
one half of the season to the other, he just failed to do what
several backs ahead of him managed to do: turn it up a notch down
the stretch. Owners of Westbrook, Ryan Grant, Joseph Addai, and
(especially) Earnest Graham and Jamal Lewis can tell you that
you can come out of the pack of 4-3, 3-4, or even 2-5 teams and
scare the heck out of your competition in the playoffs.
Let’s analyze what we’re seeing in more detail. Several
backs saw a significant increase (five or more) in attempts per
game down the stretch: Fred Taylor (+6); Earnest Graham (+11);
Justin Fargas (+14); and Ryan Grant (+19). With the exception
of Taylor, the common factor among these backs was injury to another
back on the depth chart. It’s likely this will occur in
2008. With Laurence Maroney gone for the year we could see one
of Lamont Jordan, Sammy Morris, or even Ben Jarvus Green come
to the forefront. Larry Johnson has problems that extend beyond
football and it appears there’s a good reason the Chiefs
drafted talented Longhorns back, Jamaal Charles. Justin Fargas
has returned to health after missing a few weeks with a groin
injury. Deuce McAllister gets a shot at becoming an integral part
of the offense with Reggie Bush missing in action for the next
month. Then there’s Cedric Benson taking over in Cincinnati
– as unlikely as it seemed when the former Bear was getting
a photo-op at the county jail. If Joseph Addai or Willie Parker
suffers relapses, Dominc Rhodes and Mewelde Moore have proven
capable, but they are strictly short-term options (as is McAllister).
The player I’m most anxious to see from this group is Denver
rookie, Ryan Torain, who is coming back from injury and has a
chance to be the main back. My reasoning is that Michael Pittman
is a physical back, but as evidenced by the Patriots game his
age may be catching up with him. Getting banged up as much as
he did in the contest potentially illustrated al point the coaching
staff had when they used him as a goal line back and seem reluctant
to go with him over Selvin Young and Ahmad Hall. Torain is a tough
runner in the mold of a Pittman, but has youth on his side.
The other players who I consider strong down the stretch are
backs with performances that basically remain the same or get
better even with additional carries. What this means is teams
rely upon them due to their stamina, toughness, and smarts. I
could show the stats, but I’ve done second half stat splits
numerous times over the years. The players that tend to really
come on down the stretch tend to be your smaller, quicker backs
that run hard between the tackles. In the recent past, these backs
included Brian Westbrook, Tiki Barber, Clinton Portis, and Frank
Let’s look at the first half of 2008 to see if we have
any clear-cut candidates.
One thing to notice from the last table is that unless there is
an injury to a player, carries per game don’t change too much
from the first half of the season to the last half. This is because
game plans don’t change much if the personnel remain stable.
If you have Clinton Portis, Marion Barber, Matt Forte, Adrian
Peterson, and Michael Turner, consider yourself fortunate. It’s
unlikely these players will increase their carries – in
fact, you’ll likely see a slight drop in carries per game
– but their production should remain steady enough. If you’re
an egomaniacal, risk-taking nut job I guess Portis is your best
trade-high option, because at 23.3 attempts per game, it’s
likely he’ll drop 4-5 carries per contest down the stretch.
Go ahead and trade him, just make sure it’s to me!
The backs I would watch are the high producers with less than
17 carries per game. I’m rounding up with Gore, so consider
him part of the steady-Freddy’s I mentioned above, especially
with the additional 3.5 receptions per game added to his attempt
total. Still there are several of them to mention. I’ll
split them into two groups.
The Hard Chargers
Donít let Lendale Whiteís big game in Kansas City fool you, Chris
Johnson is the headliner in this tag team duo. You donít average
five yards per carry on 100 attempts without proving your talent.
I was skeptical of Johnson making this much of an impact as an
every down runner, but his 17.2 attempts per game also prove otherwise.
Tennessee is healthy, on a roll, and their defense will keep the
running game a viable method of attack. With defenses getting
beat up this time of year, Johnson will make them pay with his
Lynch: He already totes it 18.5 times per game, but as defenses
realize that Trent Edwards will continue to complete 65%-plus
on them, Lynch will get some breathing room. Throw in the return
of Jason Peters, who should be getting into football shape and
back in the swing of things by now, and look for Marshawn Lynch
to be the beneficiary.
As long as the knee is okay, I think Morris is playing the best
football of the available runners on the New England depth chart.
Heís always been a tough runner and I think he could have an Earnest
Graham-like stretch run in 2008.
Brown: Baltimore exposed the gimmick formation last week.
Brown may look good coming off his torn ACL, but heís looking
good on 14 carries per game. I donít expect this number to increase
with Ricky Williams available to prevent Brown from getting overworked
too soon from his injury.
Reggie Bush: He was having a great season, but if youíve
been reading Bob Thompsonís new weekly column, Anatomy of
An Injury, you know that Bush had his meniscus removed, which
means heíll rehab quicker than if they stitched up the tear,
but his long term health will be in greater jeopardy. For a guy
that relies on sharp cuts and stop-start moves requiring strong
acceleration, Iím not sure why Bush would opt for this surgical
option other than impatience to get back on the field and prove
heís as good as advertised.
Steve Slaton: Iím still skeptical despite the fact Slaton
has run with more authority up the middle with the Texans compared
to his days as a Mountaineer where he moved like Fred Astaire.
The only strong defense he averaged more than 3.8 ypc was the
Titans and Tennessee was in control in this game long enough that
they were allowing the run so time could go by faster. With Ahman
Green still hanging around, Iím not counting on Slaton as
a strong option in the second half.
Brandon Jacobs and Brian Westbrook: Jacobs has two other backs
the Giants like to rotate to keep Jacobs fresh. Westbrookís
injury will slow him down some, but not long enough for his productivity
to take a permanent downturn for the entire second half.
Phil Savage is on the wrong side of the Kellen Winslow issue.
The Browns tight end has been far from a model player, but when
your gonads swell up to the size of grapefruits due to staph infection
and the team wants you to hide it to protect their image, something
is wrong. Savage can come out with a 32000-word statement if he
wants, heís still wrong to attempt to pin the blame of the
infection on Winslow because he didnít show up to the training
session. If the team is that concerned with enforcing a policy
to take preventative measures with staph infections, it was their
responsibility to enforce the rules. They could have fined Winslow
for missing the session and use the money to bring back the trainers,
and have Winslow attend.
I agree that Winslowís comments arenít good form
as an employee in an organization, but to fine and suspend a guy
for telling the truth about an organizationís woes that
potentially impact their health, and ultimately their careers,
if not addressed is retaliatory.
Letís remember, Phil Savage doesnít have the amount
of experience managing others that you would think for an executive.
Other than his tenure with the Browns his resume doesnít
have him in a management like position where he leads players
for more than one year. Savage was an English major that played
football at University of the South and got his masterís
in physical education. He joined Alabama as an intern and worked
his way through the college ladder as a position coach. Then he
made the quick transition to a scouting role where he ascended
quickly to a director of scouting position. His area of expertise
that earned him an opportunity to really manage players came from
observing players not leading them.
In fact, he left his first true management position in Baltimore
because it was rumored he was going to be fired if he didnít.
When you examine his career in this light, you realize that Phil
Savageís strength isnít managing people. Heís
going to come out of this with egg on his face, which will include
a close door meeting with the NFL about how to avoid future lawsuits.
I love watching Larry Johnson bully peopleÖwhen those people
are opponents in an NFL game. When they are women, Iím disgusted
with LJís behavior. Itís cowardly and reprehensible.
I think someone needs to force to LJ read about whatís happening
to women in the Congo and try to imagine it were his mother, sister,
or grandmother. Didnít he learn to treat women with the
same respect as if they were his mother, sister, or daughter?
At least he made a public statement that appeared to explain he
was at fault.
Ricky OíReillyís column on ESPN.com tells the story
of him meeting Barack Obama to draft a fantasy team. Its brief
piece, but you get the idea that Obama truly understood how fantasy
football works and made some excellent picks over a ďsports
writer.Ē I donít care who youíre voting for
and I donít want your emails about how much you agree or
disagree with the democratic nominee. Just appreciate a politician
who knows his fantasy football enough to make solid decisions.
Drafting Drew Brees and Clinton Portis a few weeks ago was impressive
Ė especially with a sportswriter the caliber of Rick Reilly
arguing with you.